LIMA — Reading provides the rock on which the foundation of all learning is based, area school district administrators said.
Area school districts also have adopted and developed strategies based on new scholastic programs, professional development programs and even coaching to improve pupil comprehension in reading, mathematics and science.
The strategies aim to help pupils to learn more and to be better prepared for life, while also combatting the perception created by academic studies, including an international study made public Tuesday, that showed the United States made no measurable progress in its average scores since the Program for International Student Assessment. The test, which began in 2000, evaluates students throughout the world in reading, math and science.
School superintendents agreed the key to scoring well on the standardized tests and tests in general rests is developing strong reading and comprehension skills, which can translate into scoring well in math, science, social studies and other subjects.
“You better be a good reader to do well on these standarized tests,” Wapakoneta City Schools Superintendent Keith Horner said. “Reading is so important now for even scoring well on a math test, yet alone a science test or social studies test. Reading is the clear-cut winner and math would be the clear-cut No. 2 for where our emphasis lies in instruction.”
Horner said Wapakoneta schools use a “guided reading” approach for kindergartner through fourth-grade students. The approach permits teachers to tailor the level of instruction to the pupils. They have group reading instruction and assignments and then they break into small groups to provide pupils with more individualized teaching.
“We tend to pitch it where they can hit it with respect to the instruction,” Horner said. “We look at data from the assessments from those groups, which occurs every six to eight weeks, then we might restructure the groups. So if a child is making significant progress, we may put them in a different group.”
A second aspect for Wapakoneta schools is to continue to work on improving the teacher's ability to teach reading and comprehension. Horner said teachers “like everyone else in the world, are at different levels so we are trying to increase their capability to deliver good instruction.”
The third aspect is to take advantage of student-based assessments. Wapakoneta schools uses state testing results to evaluate how effective the instruction is, Horner said.
Wapakoneta schools uses a similar method to teach math.
“It may not be ability grouped but we break down into small-group instruction or provide specific instruction on a specific topic,” Horner said. “They might, in a day, get two math lessons — one might be on what we would traditionally provide and the second piece of instruction would be based upon the data we obtain. We might find where we were weak and provide some additional instruction.
“We concentrate so much on reading and writing and math that science and social studies at the elementary level don't receive the same level of attention — they are not one of the big rocks that we work on,” he added. “We do work on them, but we work on them because we are tested on them. We plan to do more in those areas in the future.”
Lima City Schools Superintendent Jill Ackerman said they have partnered with Scholastics to improve reading and math skills. Several years ago, they began using a reading intervention program called Read 180, which was developed by a group of education professors and professionals to improve reading and comprehension.
“We have had some significant gains in our reading scores, especially at the elementary level, since we implemented it,” said Ackerman, who noted last year the district initiated an intervention program for professional development from kindergartner through sixth grade.
Math curriculum team leader Cathy Collins said they also are providing professional development for math teachers from kindergarten through high school.
“We are really focusing on math, as far as how do we teach it so the students really retain the information so that they can apply it to their everyday lives,” Collins said. “We are also looking at our standards and making sure that we know what is expected of the students so that they will know exactly what it is they need to learn.”
Ackerman said they also have assigned “coaches” to specific school buildings to train teachers, perform classroom observations and provide model lesson plans for teachers as well as to work with principals and admininstrations “to make sure they have a deep understanding of math and strategies so they know what to look for in the classroom.”
“It has been very well received by our staff,” Ackerman said. “It is a lot of time and work and effort on their part but I think it has really been beneficial to them as well.”
Joel Steinmetz, who serves as the district's science curriculum team leader, said they have aligned their science teaching calendar to the state calendar. Ohio Department of Education science standards have been established in the last couple of years.
“We are working making sure what the state thinks is important and teaching it in a way to help students understand how to do it and for them not just memorize it,” Steinmetz said.
The Lima schools science program is to be more hands on.
“We have been using TBT, which is teacher-based teams, and we have been using that data for years,” Steinmetz said. “It is a way for us to get a quick look within in a couple of weeks. It gives us the background knowledge of students and where they are, then we give the lessons and the instruction and then test again to see if we have done a good job and to make adjustments as we go.”
Kenton City Schools, which had Hardin Central Elementary School recently earn the state's High Progress Schools of Honor from the ODE for its work in language arts, use a district-wide approach to improve literacy.
“We use a balanced literacy program so we have a real strong focus on independent reading and fluency, comprehension,” Kenton Local Schools Superintendent Jennifer Penczarski said. “At the high school this year, they have instituted a mandatory time during the day where every person in the building spends time reading independently so that we can increase our scores, our fluency and our comprehension.
“We have had a lot of success in that area,” she said. “We feel if they can read and comprehend then our students will be able to be successful across all areas.”
In math, Kenton schools use coaches to help pupils learn the subject matter and to help teachers with instructional pieces at each grade level.
“We do some extra things with science,” Penczarski said. “We try to apply what we teach in the classroom and put it into some real-life experiences.”
Currently they are working with robotics, but they apply science principles to solve real-world problems.
At the elementary school level, they team with Ohio State University Extension programs and use 4-H projects to help with real-world applications.
“We did have some growth, but a lot of these programs have only been in place last year and this year,” Penczarski said. “The literacy has been in place for four or five years and we have experienced significant growth in reading and we can really see it in the third grade.”